Twelve Bravo by L. Fergus

The green light from the radio cast harsh shadows inside the 113A3 APC. Private Logine sat on the far end of the pioneer box, her M-16 rifle between her legs. She rested the edge of her helmet against the front sight post as the smell of diesel and oil seeped up through the floorboards. Over the idling of the 113’s engine came a rumble—East German artillery falling nearby.

Staff Sergeant Acoine had the radio hand-mic tucked up under his helmet. Logine guessed he was trying to find out why they stopped. They weren’t supposed to stop until they reached Fulda. The 11th Cavalry Regiment and 3rd Infantry Division had blunted the Soviet advance, and now NATO forces were on the counterattack.

“Hey!” Private Wallace punched Logine’s shoulder, right in her 2nd Armored Division patch. Logine adored the nickname: Hell on Wheels. “Quit stewing. We got this. Sapper Steel!”

Logine turned to look at her girlfriend and then banged helmets with her. “You know it.”

Logine and Wallace had been together since high school. They’d joined the Army and as a hometown pair, they’d gone through Basic and AIT together and then assigned to the 168th Engineer Battalion at Wiesbaden Army Base, West Germany.

Across from Logine, Specialist Holiday sat on the demolition box. “You girls checked your rifles? Locked and loaded?”

Logine picked up her rifle. It was heavier now with live rounds in it. She checked the safety, magazine, and receiver. Everything was where it was supposed to be. “Good to go, Specialist.”

“Same here, Specialist,” said Wallace.

“Good. Now, be quiet. I’m trying to listen.”

A year in the Army and Logine learned to be patient. The Army was a lot of waiting, punctuated with brief periods of action. She had learned to summon her mind and body from a lull to combat-ready at a moment’s notice.

Wallace’s gloved hand squeezed Logine’s thigh. Logine took Wallace’s hand and squeezed it. Logine knew Wallace had her back, and she had hers. They earned a reputation around the infantry and tanker barracks—mess with one, you were going to get the other. A few guys learned the hard way they were fearless and not afraid to fight. They collected a pair of article fifteens for throwing a tanker that wouldn’t take no for an answer down a flight of stairs and breaking his arm.

“Outlaw Two Six, roger. Outlaw Two Three is moving.” Sergeant Acoine tapped Sergeant Fortune standing in the command hatch on the leg, and the 113 lurched forward. He put the hand-mic away. “Ok, listen up. We’re moving forward. The task force has hit a minefield and has stopped. The platoon is moving forward to breach it. Outlaw Two Two has fired a MICLIC, and the ACE is moving forward to proof the lane. Holiday, grab the demo bag. You’re going to proof the lane in case the ACE doesn’t make it. The Soviets have overwatch, but the tanks and Bradleys are keeping them busy. Logine, Wallace, you’ll mark the lane, just like Grafe, except I’ll attach IR chem-lights to the top, instead of cones. Are you girls good?”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Logine and Wallace said together.

“Good. Logine, open the troop hatch and untie the pickets. Wallace, get out your picket pounder.”

Holiday scooted out of the way so Logine could stand on the demolition box and open the troop hatch. The sounds of battle assaulted her ears. The booms of tank cannons and the rapid-fire cracks of Bradleys were uncoordinated with the tracers blazing trails through the night air. Swaying with the 113 as it moved, Logine undid the tie-downs on the pickets. In front of her, Sergeant Fortune fired a few rounds from the 113’s 50. caliber machine gun.

The 113 passed through the tree line, engine screaming as it raced toward an unseen destination. Logine dropped back down into the 113. Wallace had body slung her rifle and had the picket pounder in her hands. The forty-pound two-handled cylindrical metal picket pounder was hollow on one end and weighed a third of what Wallace did.

The 113 came to an abrupt halt, throwing everyone forward.

“Dammit, Freddy,” yelled Holiday.

Logine knew PFC Fredrick couldn’t hear Holiday, but everyone was thinking the same thing. Fredrick twisted in the driver’s seat and pulled the lever to lower the ramp with a thump in the dirt.

“Holiday, go!” yelled Sergeant Acoine.

Holiday jumped out of the 113, turned, and disappeared into the darkness.

“Ok, girls,” called Sergeant Acoine, “just like we did a month ago. As the track goes down the lane, I’ll toss off the pickets. We’ll pick you up on the other side. You good?”

“Yes, Sergeant!” they yelled enthusiastically.

“Remember: mission first, do not accept defeat, there is no quitting, and no one gets left behind.”

“Yes, Sergeant!”

“Good. Go kick them in the ass!”

Logine and Wallace ran down the ramp and around the side of the 113. Sergeant Acoine passed a six-foot u-shaped metal picket to Logine, and the 113 pulled away. Logine stood the picket up, and Wallace put the picket top inside the picket pounder. Each soldier grabbed a handle on the picket pounder, and with synchronized motion, they lifted the picket pounder and slammed it down, throwing all their body weight with it. After four strikes the picket stood. They lifted the picket pounder off and ran toward the next picket.

The ground became rough and broken as they entered the lane cleared by the MICLIC. The plowing by the ACE did little to improve the footing. Logine ran as fast as she could, her protective mask banging against her thigh and her rifle hitting her butt. They reached the next picket and pounded it into the ground. The row of pickets would guide the rest of the task force through the minefield.

As Logine ran, the ground to the left exploded in a shower of dirt, grass, and metal fragments. The force of the artillery impact threw Logine off her feet. She landed in the dirt. Picking herself up, she ran to Wallace. “Hey, you ok?”

Wallace rolled over. There was a cut in her BDU bottoms just above her cargo pocket. She put her hand on it, and her glove came away with blood. “I think I’ll be fine. It’s just a little scratch.” She stood up and grabbed the picket pounder.

They ran forward through the darkness, pounding pickets. A bright fireball lit the far tree line as a T-72 took a direct hit. Logine couldn’t see the 113 anymore. She didn’t worry about it. They would find it on the other side.

After a dozen pickets, Wallace said, “Can you take the picket pounder? It’s getting heavy.” Logine took it from her, and they found the next picket. A bright flash illuminated the field in front of them. The 113 was in flames.

“What do we do?” said Wallace to Logine.

“We keep going. We’ll stop and grab what we need off the 113 and finish.”

“Ok.”

They pounded the remaining pickets and ran to the 113. It was mostly intact, and the flames had died down. Logine dropped the picket pounder and stepped up on the 113’s track to reach the top. Sergeant Acoine was gone. Sergeant Fortune was slumped against the 50. caliber machine gun. The smell of diesel and burnt flesh permeated the air. Logine grabbed eight pickets from the pile—the amount one of them could carry—and passed them down to Wallace. The box of chem-lights was on the deck behind the command hatch. Logine reached for them. When a hand grabbed her arm, Logine screamed. Sergeant Acoine stood in the troop hatch. Burnt flesh and uniform covered half of his face and body. With his good hand, he pulled two flares from his cargo pocket.

“Open signal,” he croaked and then collapsed back into the 113.

Logine grabbed the flares and the chem-lights and stuck them in her cargo pockets. She jumped down and picked up the picket pounder. “Let’s go!”

“What’s the scream for?” yelled Wallace.

“Sergeant Acoine was still alive. Kind of.”

They pounded the next picket. Logine pulled a chem-light from the box, cracked it, and stuck it on top of the picket. They pounded pickets until they came to the smoking ruin of the ACE laying on its side.

“Does this mean the lane’s not proofed?” said Logine.

“I don’t know,” said Wallace. “We haven’t seen Specialist Holiday. When we go forward, we’ll run side by side and look for mines. We’ll just have to push any we find out of the way.”

Logine nodded in agreement. They rushed forward a few feet apart but stayed inside the MICLIC’s blast lane. The picket pounder was getting heavy.

“We gotta switch this up,” said Logine. “It’s too heavy.”

“I have three pickets left,” said Wallace. “I’ll take two, you get one, and we’ll both carry the picket pounder.”

Each soldier took a handle and their pickets and ran forward. They pounded two more pickets and reached the end of the MICLIC blast. A few yards beyond the blast was a mine.

“I’ll pound the picket, you get the mine,” said Logine to Wallace.

Logine pounded the picket with all her might. With just her, it took seven strikes to get the picket in the ground. Using her legs and her weary arms, she lifted the picket pounder off, let it fall to the ground, and attached a chem-light. Exhausted, she threw herself down next to Wallace.

“How’s it going?”

With her bare hands, Wallace was pulling dirt out from under the mine. “Checking for mousetraps. So far, I got nothing.”

Wallace continued to search until they’d pulled most of the dirt from under the mine. “Ok, I think it’s good. Let’s lift it up and set it aside.”

Carefully, they lifted the mine and carried it to the last picket. Setting it down at the base, Logine cracked a chem-light and placed it on top.

“Ok,” said Logine to Wallace. “That’s it. Let’s find a place to lay low until someone picks us up.”

“Let’s get to the tree line. We can hide there.”

Unslinging their rifles, they entered the woods. Logine stopped. “Wait! The flares!” Logine pulled them out of her cargo pocket. She handed one to Wallace.

“Is it one or both?” said Wallace.

“I don’t know.” Before they had done the lane marking drill in the daylight and used a smoke pot. “What color is yours?”

Wallace turned the flare so she could read the markings on the side. “Green.”

“Mine’s green, too. Let’s fire both. That way the tankers can’t miss seeing them.”

“How do they work?”

Logine found the instructions. “Hit bottom against a hard surface. Aim toward the sky.”

“The ground’s too soft,” said Wallace.

“Smack it against our knees.”

“Huh?”

Logine took a knee.

“Oh, gotcha.” Wallace knelt. “Ready? One…two…three!”

Both soldiers slammed the bottom of the flares against their knees. Two pops were followed by loud wooshes. Green lights streaked into the air and exploded, bathing everything in green light.

Logine tossed the used tube away. “Come on, let’s go.”

They ran into the trees and stopped at the base of a large pine tree.

“Gunther, bist du das?”

“Oh, shit,” said Wallace.

There was a series of flashes. Wallace’s M-16 fell from her hands, and she collapsed.

“Lizzy!” cried Logine.

More flashes lit the area as Logine ducked behind the tree. Leaning out, she fired back but didn’t know where to aim. Flashes came from a neighboring tree. Logine fired at the tree, rolled to the other side, and charged the enemy, firing from her hip.

Logine nearly tripped over the East German soldier. He rose to his knees and aimed his AK-47. Using her bayonet training, Logine knocked the AK-47 aside. Raising the butt of her M-16, she smashed it into his face several times. She jumped back and fired twice in the East German’s chest.

Logine ran back to Wallace. She fell to a prone position next to her.

“Lizzy! Lizzy!” Logine yelled while shaking Wallace.

Logine received no response. Two dark spots were on Wallace’s BDU top. Logine pulled open Wallace’s top, and her brown t-shirt was soaked in blood.

“Love, no,” whispered Logine as she touched her helmet to Wallace’s chest while fighting back tears. “I won’t leave you here.”

Logine knelt, slung her rifle from her shoulder, grabbed Wallace’s arm and leg, and hoisted Wallace onto her shoulders in a fireman’s carry. After a wobbly step, Logine marched back toward the lane’s exit.

The chatter of AK-47s came from behind Logine. A fist hit her in the kidney. A second punch knocked the wind out of her lungs. Her knees buckled, and she fell forward onto her chest. Wallace rolled off Logine’s shoulders. Logine blinked, trying to understand what happened. A whisper turned into a roar as an M1 tank drove by.

“Mission accomplished,” Logine whispered. She coughed and her mouth filled with blood. The sounds of battle faded in her ears as her vision became gray. She closed her eyes, and the world slipped away.

 

***

 

Logine’s blood glowed like embers. A single flame burst forth and spread across the dead soldier’s body. Large flames shot skyward and engulfed her.

An unnatural wind swirled, blowing the ash skyward. The ash became a tornado, swirling tighter. There was a flash, and an Angel with black wings appeared. She was dressed in black leather and heavy combat boots, her midsection was bare and heavy bracers with crystal inlays protected her arms, a heavy stud encrusted belt hung from her hip, and thigh pads held an array of throwing stars. A hood obscured her face. She carried a pair of swords on her back. The Angel removed her hood revealing blonde hair and a sad expression in her blue eyes. She knelt next to Wallace.

The Angel rolled Wallace over, undid her helmet, and tossed it aside. She stroked Wallace’s cheek. “Brave soldier, you did your duty and the battle’s won, but your job is not done.” The Angel touched Wallace’s nose. “Boop! Rise Sapper.”

Wallace convulsed and screamed. The Angel rolled Wallace onto her hands and knees then drew a sword and cut two slits in her BDU top between her shoulder blades and spine. Two fleshy growths grew skyward forming limbs and joints. Buds on the limbs flesh grew and burst, revealing red feathers with white edges. The Angel helped Sapper to her feet.

Sapper looked at the Angel. Her mouth opened in surprise. “Kita is that you? Did we get the lane open?”

“Hey, Lizzy. Yes, It’s me.”

“Why are you dressed like that? And did you get taller?”

Kita chuckled. “This is my true form. I’m an Angel, and now, so are you. We did our duty, but it’s no longer our fight. We have another war to win.”

Sapper looked around at the darkened forest as an M1 tank drove by. “I don’t understand. What happened?”

“We died after clearing the breach. We’re as close to heroes as we’ll ever get.”

“Sergeant First Class Hernandez said that during AIT. It is you.”

Kita smiled. “Our lives here are over. You’ve earned your place among the Angels. You are Sapper.”

“If we’re dead, how am I here?”

Kita smiled. “Death is only the beginning. Come, it’s time to go home.”

 

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APC—Armored Personnel Carrier

MICLIC—Mine Clearing Line Charge

ACE—Armored Combat Earthmover

AIT—Advanced Individual Training

BDU—Battle Dress Uniform

IR—Infrared

PFC—Private First Class

Picket—Six-foot-tall u-shaped metal stake for creating wire obstacles

Picket Pounder—A hollow cylindrical tube with a metal plate on one end and handles

Article Fifteen—non-judicial punishment for minor offenses

Twelve Bravo Copyright 2019